Old School Values, New School Marketing Strategy – You Really Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks!

Ford Motor Company has been evolving since its introduction in 1899 and today it is the third largest automaker in the world. With headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, Ford manufactures and distributes automobiles across six continents. Today the company employs over 175,000 people and operates 65 plants worldwide. The company’s automotive brands include Ford and Lincoln.

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Despite having been around for over 100 years, Ford has not made the mistake of being resistant to change. As new forms of media arise, Ford branches out to establish a presence in each one, consistently making an effort to connect with audiences across multiple forums.

“Customers are spending as much time with the mobile smart phone or online as they are watching TV now, so our advertising dollars have to flow to where the people are,” Farley told Reuters. The goal, he explained, is to successfully “break into their world.” .

In 2010 25% of Ford’s annual budget was dedicated to its digital marketing strategy. In 2012 that grew to 38% suggesting the company views this as a high priority.  Successfully engaging consumers in the digital space requires a company to understand how the public perceives them, developing a plan for change where needed, and committing to proper execution to achieve its goals.

Blogs

Ford SocialFord takes ownership of its social presence with its blog titled Ford Social. This site becomes a one stop shop for consumers to engage with the company in the online space.

The title of the blog says it all. It is a place for audiences to socialize with Ford. Visitors can discuss experiences and pose questions about the company’s products in a collaborative setting. It is much more than a place for Ford to post internal thoughts or messaging around products and partnerships. It has embraced the interactive side of social media and created a user friendly environment for consumers to engage with not just the company but also with one another.

One of the strengths Ford demonstrates here is the setup of the blog. It is aesthetically appealing and very easy to navigate. It is compatible in mobile view. The only downside is the menu falls to the bottom of the page as opposed to the top.

There are 5 main sections to the blog:

Our Articles

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In this section they feature articles about products and the company. These blog posts are by the company for consumers. It is a collection of articles relevant to the company’s brands written between 2009 and 2013.

Your Stories

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In this section consumers have a chance to make their voices heard when it comes to experiences with Ford and Lincoln products. Users can create a blog post for all to see in this for consumers by consumers section. It looks like Ford understands the value of word of mouth advertising. The consumer posts in this section are not only stories but testimonials that have the potential to influence other consumers.

Your Ideas

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The blog also has a space to capture ideas from consumers in 6 main categories:  CONVENIENCE,  GREEN,  INFOTAINMENT,  PERFORMANCE,  PERSONALIZATION,  and SAFETY.

Think about it though: free brainstorming. Companies spend thousands of dollars on research for innovation every year. And this section allows consumers to post their thoughts that the company is free to use – free of charge. You never know, the next game changing idea could be submitted through this forum.

The final two sections are where you can view and submit images and videos. A culmination of user generated content and content from the company.

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To encourage the conversation across the web, users can also get ford badges to post and share throughout social media sites.

 

 

Contextualized Banner Ads

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The blog is not the only online marketing tactic Ford is actively engaging in. Here’s a crazy statistic, and one that made me raise an eyebrow.

According to AdWeek, in 2010, Ford became the first marketer to create an interactive banner ad campaign using a technology called Search API DoubleClick Rich Media. Google acquired the technology in 2007 and the idea is depending on the context of the Web site a consumer is browsing, the most relevant Ford content is pulled and displayed, using video from the Ford YouTube channel and information from Ford websites. Think about it, you’re visiting a site about going green and preserving the environment, and then you notice a banner ad about Ford’s hybrid models. Or you are on “manstuff.com” (don’t know if that’s real I just made up the name but you get the point) and the banner ad shows Ford’s super tough truck models. It is more common know to see targeted banner ads, but just think Ford was the first.

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You Tube

The Ford You Tube Channel is a one stop shop for Ford TV. Viewers can peruse current advertisements and promotions for upcoming products or features. In addition to product information, users can also view videos on vehicle amenities like MyFord Touch and MyLincoln. This can generate interest from potential customers and also provide clarity for current customers who might not know how to use all the features in their vehicle. Of course Ford does engage in traditional advertising, but in this space it doesn’t cost them thousands of dollars to air their commercials. And since there is only Ford specific content on this channel, its “all ford, all the time”.

Facebook

Not only does ford have a corporate Facebook page, but it has built pages for each of its vehicles as well. This was a smart and necessary move on their part, as the corporate identity and messaging would be very different from a page dedicated to a specific product. Further, the consumer that is interested in the Fiesta would not necessarily be interested in the F-150. Each product has its own target market and by extension its own areas of focus in communicating with its audiences. Images and video would also be product specific here. That might sound like common sense, separate Facebooks for separate products. But even today its not something all companies practice.

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Twitter

The same setup applies to the companies twitter presence. There is a corporate page and then pages dedicated to specific vehicles. Consumers can engage with products of interest.

fiesta social media

Mobile Apps

Let’s not forget tools that let Ford go everywhere you go. Want to know what it’s like to drive a ford, before going to the dealer?… Check out the test drive app – that’s right you can virtually go behind the wheel of select models. Want to know about vehicle features inside and out – there’s and app for that! Check out the vehicle tour app. Still want more? Well while I can’t say they thought of everything, there are a multitude of apps that allow users to interact with different vehicle models and also tutorials on how to use the MyFord Touch Technology.

ford mobile appsync app link My ford touch my ford magazine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pulling it all Together

One example of a product that Ford had a consistent focus on from conception through launch across all digital mediums is the Ford Fiesta. This campaign was very interesting, here’s how it worked:

Prior to launch 100 people were provided with the European version of the Ford Fiesta 18 months before it began being manufactured and released in the USA. These individuals were encouraged to share their experiences with the vehicle over the following 6 months on their Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube accounts.

fiesta social media

So what happened?

  • 11 million Social Networking impressions
  • 5 million engagements on social networks
    • Sharing and receiving
    • 11,000 videos posted
    • 15,000 tweets
      • Not including retweets
      • 13,000 photos
      • 50,000 people were exposed to the product either in person or through video and expressed interest in finding out more about the Fiesta after launch
        •  97% of these people were not current Ford owners or drivers
        • 38% awareness by Gen Y about the product.
          • This was accomplished prior to any marketing spend in the traditional advertising space

This is interesting especially since Bullas (2010) also points out that the Ford Fusion model did not amount to that much awareness even after 2 years in production and millions spent on traditional marketing.

On the Right Track

I don’t think any one company is perfect with digital marketing, but I do think Ford is on the right track. They consistently evolve their strategy year after year to include emerging forms of media all while keeping their messaging consistent. Each vehicle in the portfolio has varying market segments. The look and feel of the site is dependent on the brand strategy of the model. Ford Social pulls everything into one place allowing consumers to engage with others in reference to each and every product and they can visit vehicle specific pages on facebook or twitter.

The one thing Ford does seem to get is the importance of user generated content. With the growth of the internet comes an increase in the importance of trust from consumers. People do not want to simply visit a site where a company is projecting thoughts or cleverly crafted messaging on their own products; instead they want to know “what does everyone else think about this brand?”  How does it work for them? What do they think of the customer service. Fords digital marketing strategy embraces the importance of trust, functional web design and functionality, and creating a place that genuinely fosters consumer engagement.

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Children: A Marketer’s Dream , But Parents Hold On To Your Wallets!

“What do you call a consumer who wants to buy everything you have, doesn’t care what it costs and is less than five feet tall? A marketer’s dream? Nope. You call them kids.”

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When it comes to marketing and advertising to children, companies should carefully consider their methods and messaging.  With the emergence of digital, there is an abundance of ways to communicate with younger audiences and an ever increasing focus on ethics.

As Levinson (2013) points out, children have always been the largest and most dynamic emerging market in the world. In this aspect there is always a new generation exploring ways to improve their quality of life and as the years progress children are exposed to technology at increasingly earlier stages of life. Children are connecting with the world around them through a plethora of digital interactions. This creates more and more opportunities for companies to interact with children through marketing campaigns and advertising.

Wass (2013) suggests that by developing highly engaging, interactive, and personalized experiences, companies can more effectively communicate brand messaging to this impressionable audience. Many times children are interacting with media on mobile devices without supervision, and often give it their undivided attention making them the perfect captive audience.

There are numerous reasons why companies target young audiences. Despite not being the source of income in their households, they still have significant influence over purchasing decisions. Bhattacharyya & Kohli (2007) discuss the idea of “pester power”, a child’s ability to pester their parents into making a purchase they might not otherwise make. Getting children to identify with and develop loyalty to a particular brand early on my cause them to continue the loyalty later in life which make it desirable for companies to establish this brand relationship early on.

With the power this young audience has, comes significant responsibility for company advertisers and marketers. There are of course laws in place to protect children in these instances. Levinson (2013) points out that there are laws and regulations prohibiting ads that exploit the credulity of children. Examples include advertising that undermines or contradicts established social values, exploits inexperience, or encourages harmful activities.

Unfortunately the above examples are easier to monitor in traditional media than they are in emerging digital platforms. For example, a child playing a learning game on an iPad could be exposed to a pop up ad that their parent may not notice. It is not always possible for parents to ensure their children are being exposed to positive and ethical advertising.

When it comes to new media and marketing to children, it is important to consider what exactly is being communicated. With all the avenues available to influence children and by extension adult consumers, companies need to keep ethics in mind when communicating to young audiences. Key questions that should be posed when considering how to position messaging for your audiences:

  • What is the intended message the company wants to convey about its product or service?
  • Is the messaging clear, or does it leave room for misleading interpretations or promises about what the product offers?
  • If a parent were to intercept the advertisement, would they consider it favorable or would they interpret it as having a negative impact on their child?
  • Is the message attempting to take advantage of the child’s limited knowledge or experience in any way?
  • Would the product claims stack up to a fact check? Or is it fluff designed to evoke emotion from an uninformed audience?

Marketing Spotlight:  Mattel

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Founded in 1945 by Harold Matson and Elliot Handler, Mattel has established itself as a world leader in the toy manufacturing industry. Together with its closest competitor Hasbro, Mattel accounts for one quarter of the toy manufacturing market.  Mattel holds the largest market share for action figures and dolls and is the leading global manufacturer of traditional toys.

Initially, Mattel’s main product focus was picture frames but in 1947 the company shifted into the toy industry. The product the company is most famous for, Barbie® dolls were introduced in 1959. Over the next 50 years the company continued to introduce popular traditional toy products as well as several electronic toys. By 2012, the company portfolio grew to include more than 30 brands.

Today, as one of the top two toy manufacturers in the world, it is not surprising that the primary focus of targeted marketing efforts for Mattel are children and young teens. Even Mattel’s corporate website features positive imagery of children playing and interacting with one another. The phrase “play to grow, play together, play with passion, play fair” appears on each page of the corpor

ate site along with the company vision tagline “creating the future of play”. The website also highlights key company strategies including improving existing businesses, furthering globalization efforts, exploring line extensions, discovering new trends, and developing people. The design and tone of the corporate website is professional and intended for adult audiences while the Mattel brands website that features information on products and services is designed with young users in mind.

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From a web development perspective, the website is setup in a way that is clean and easy to navigate. The appearance of the home page makes it evident that the targeted end users are children and young teens. A visitor would have the option to play games, search for the latest toys, or visit sub sites for specific brands. The brands featured on the homepage appear to be the latest trending favorites for both male and female children across multiple age groups. There are brands that would appeal to young children, pre teens, and early teens. From the main page a visitor could elect to play a game, watch “webisodes” and videos, or learn more about what toys are available. Bright colors make the site appealing to its audience and sections are clearly labeled. For users that are not yet able to read there is a toolbar both in the middle and at the top of the page that would allow them to select a path through familiar imagery.

From a brand promotion perspective, each brand has its own subsite, allowing users to visit the brand of their choice for more information. Familiar users can go to the area that interests them, while new users can explore the sections for multiple brands. There are sections to shop for products and apps to download related to different brands. Visiting a subsite allows the user to get promotion codes and coupons to save on certain purchases. There is also an email feature where a user can email an item they like to someone, a parent for example to share their interest in a product. There are also sections where site users can enter themselves in drawings for free products. Each brand’s sub site has different content depending on the assumed age group and gender of the user. For example, the Monster High subsite is presented in a more trendy and feminine position than the younger and more male positioning of the Matchbox and Hot Wheels brands.

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The site appears to utilize ethical tactics. The majority of the site features product images. There does not appear to be any area in which questionable or misleading messages appear. The site is designed to be interactive and perhaps is meant to further brand loyalty through interaction and attractive imagery as opposed to traditional verbal messaging. A parent would most likely be comfortable allowing a young user to navigate the site alone. Mattel also has brand equity on its side. Parents are familiar with the brand and were exposed to many of the products when they were children themselves.

Mattel’s On The Right Track

Based on the positioning and content available on the site, the Mattel brand website successfully targets young users in an ethical manner. The visual layout and ease of navigation make it a site children are capable of using on their own, and the clean content make it a site parents would allow them to use frequently. The products the company offers provide Mattel with a solid reason to target children directly with marketing and advertising efforts. Its family friendly methods suggest its website will help to ensure Mattel remains a dominant force in the toy industry for years to come.